Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Agencies Slow to Embrace New Media: Not the Problem

Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, is the latest marketer to boldly accept blame for not embracing digital media:
"I'd have to say our traditional verticals inside our business probably, like any traditional business, are slower than they should be in embracing new technology"
This he said, mind you, at a client summit. I'm sure there were a few account supes who cringed when they heard that. But on the other hand, this is the sort of sweeping statement that tends to dig at agency teams: there is bound to be some group of people within the shop that have, in fact, embraced digital technology, and have tried to push it to clients and to bosses, only to be met with a dismissive attitude from leadership (on which Sorrell does, in fact, place blame).

But on the other hand: so what?

I certainly don't mean that the spread of digital technology is not an important thing for business and for advertising. But if you're focused on the technology, you're going to solve the wrong problem. Agencies tend to have a media-placement centric view of the world. If television media is effectiveness-challenged, the response is to go searching for other-media that isn't: Blog media, podcast media, game media, etc.

But the problem comes from the refusal to let go of the placement part of the thinking. If all you really need is to get up to speed on digital technology, its not that hard. Spend two weeks and you'll pretty much get everything you really need to know about new media. But if you want to shift the way you use media...scratch that...if you want to shift the way you interact with customers, regardless of media: that's a bigger (and more valuable) challenge.

"Placing media" is a symantic holdover from the offline-only world. As are insertion orders and even the concept of premium inventory. They all speak to the discipline of putting a message in front of someone and hoping for the best. My mentor Tim Smith talks about "true use" of the digital medium, by which he meant approach online (or really any media) by trying to understand it deeply and clearly, and using it in a way that could only be done on that media. It was as good an idea in 1994 as it is today.
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Blogger Tinu said...

"But if you want to shift the way you use media...scratch that...if you want to shift the way you interact with customers, regardless of media: that's a bigger (and more valuable) challenge."

This made me think that you have hit the nail on the head exactly and that I'd like to see you write more about this. There's always been a thread missing in this discourse and I think that's it - the fact that it's not such a big deal about embracing the new types of media - in this case digital - it's that there is little to no embrace of the Spirit of what that media can do and represent.

The most terrifying reason I see in companies that are reluctant to start blogging is how alienated they are from their clients. As if communicating with them would be such a nightmare - oh no! Not the customers! Like they will be beaten in public by them or drawn and quartered. When really the issue is that their clients are already out there somewhere, possibly blogging, with no one to respond to and manage their voices, whether of dissent or loyalty...

Great topic.

4:34 AM  
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8:19 AM  
Blogger Brokerblogger said...

Gary, great post, but the second "comment" here after "tinu's" great comment is SPAM. That's why I use TypePad with "Comment Authentication" before comments are published.

I submitted this feedback on ClickZ for your article on the same topic, but I never know if it will be published, or heavily edited, from past experience. So here it is: "Great Article Gary! I like it when you say "The real opportunity for marketers, presented by very rapid evolution, is to take part in that communal, social aspect of media -- of interaction in general."

The main challenge for traditional ad agencies, and for everyone, though, is to find the time to invest in collaborative conversations. I see too many people who "skim" and "scan" things vs. "in-depth" participation.

A recent confidential (for specifics) conversation I had with co-owner of a SEM firm revealed that a big traditional ad agency was courting many SEM firms to acquire an interactive division. The lack of knowledge of basic SEM terminology combined with an elitist attitude put the traditional ad agency at a huge disadvantage.

This leads me to believe that it may not be totally accurate when you say "It's noble that marketing's old guard is interested in understanding new media. But they can do that in a weekend."

I see your blog post here is slighly different in that you say "Spend two weeks and you'll pretty much get everything you really need to know about new media." That's more accurate, in my opinion, but I'm sure we agree that no matter how "in-depth" the educational time is, it may not affect the "ethos" or "elitist" attitude of many traditional ad agencies.

8:52 AM  
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